APRIL 14, 2007
 (STAR) By Eden Estopace - It is not quite right to compare the computer’s holding power on people to addiction, says Internet theorist Sherry Turkle in her book Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet.

The more appropriate metaphor, she says, is seduction "because it emphasizes the relationship between person and machine."

"Love, passion, infatuation or what we feel for another person teaches us about ourselves. The analysis of computational seduction offers a similar promise… that describes the forces that keep us engrossed in computational media," she explains.

Published in 1995 when the Internet was new and online gaming was not the million-dollar industry that it is today, Turkle’s book offered an explanation to the then growing fascination of geeks to virtual reality.

The seduction is far from over. Online gaming, which is but a small part of the virtual life, can be so seductive as to spawn a niche market that is expected to grow to $6.8 billion by 2010 in the Asia-Pacific region alone, according to research firm In-Stat.

In the Philippines, gaming is well entrenched in the youth culture that it has established a huge following. In fact, the IDC report entitled "Philippines Online Gaming 2005-2009 Forecast: A Situational Overview," sees online gaming as one of the most dynamic niche segments in the country’s IT landscape.

While Internet penetration in the Philippines is not as high as in more developed countries, with only around 15 million Internet users out of a population of over 87 million, the gaming market is sustained by Internet cafés and prepaid gaming cards, making the pay-for-play model the dominant revenue scheme for most gaming sites; in fact, more than half of the revenues of the local gaming market come from online gaming subscription.

This, however, is fast changing. The number of Internet users and broadband subscribers is on the rise and the same goes for online gamers. Based on data from IDC and World Fact Book presented during the 2nd RAN Global Online Conference held recently in Cebu, the online gaming population is forecast to reach 6.3 million in 2008 from 2.6 million in 2006.

The giant leap could be attributed to many things, but one major factor that will fire this phenomenal growth is the revolutionary free-to-play scheme introduced in the country by local games publisher IP e-Games Ventures.

A subsidiary of IPVG Corp. (IPVG), a publicly listed company on the Philippine Stock Exchange engaged in the information technology and communications space, IP e-Games has the widest selection of games for hardcore players to casual gamers.

Its flagship game is RAN Online, Asia’s number one free-to-play, campus-based Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). It was launched in the country in March 2006 and in less than a year, has become the dominant MMORPG in the Philippines because of the free-to-play model.

As in most other areas of Pinoy life, the idea of free, unlimited gameplay caught on and is now making waves in the industry.

In fact, IP e-Games just hosted the 2nd RAN Online Global Conference, the regional summit of all RAN Online publishers in Asia.


"Our goal from the start has been to liberalize online gaming in the Philippines. We want to free gamers from having to worry about running out of credits while they are in-game. It is all about freedom to the gaming community," says IP e-Games CEO Enrique Gonzalez in the company website.

Aside from RAN Online, other games available on the IP e-Games site are the rhythm game O2 Jam, considered as the leading casual game in the country; Battle Position, a platform-based real-time shooter; Dreamville, the first Social Network Service (SNS) in the Philippines; Supreme Destiny, a classical fantasy MMORPG; and Audition, an online dance battle that gives music lovers the chance to see their characters rule on the online dance floor.

At the IP e-Games portal, these games are free. But gamers can purchase in-game items that will help make their characters stronger, more powerful, or simply more fashionable.

"There’s no obligation to buy our cards," says IP e-Games president Steve Tsao in the company website. "You can play our games for free as long as you want. The cards are there simply to enrich the playing experience of our players."

If there is any indication that this free-to-play scheme is gaining ground, one only has to look at the e-Games community itself, which is now composed of 3.2 million registered users, with one million active users per month and around 40,000 players online at any given time.

IP e-Games itself has said that it is in the "business of creating fun" and as such, the community is still evolving. Downloads, guild activities, competitions, Web forums, market and technical updates dominate the site, next to games. It is a one-stop shop for fun things to do in a virtual world.

"What attracts me to the computer are the possibilities of ‘conversation’ among the multiple windows on my screen and the way an instantly responsive machine allays my anxieties about perfection," writes Turkle.

In online gaming, where players from all over the world interact with one another in a virtual world, the art of conversation is taken to a different level — through swordsplay, character development, and role-playing.

Incidentally, another IPVG subsidiary — the IP Contact Center Outsourcing Inc. (IPCCO) — has announced a partnership with PCCW Limited, Hong Kong’s largest telecommunications enterprise, for the establishment of call center services in the Philippines designed to meet the English-language requirements of PCCW Teleservices’ clients in other parts of the world.

The cooperation will establish the first PCCW-branded and certified contact centers in the Philippines.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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